By Amy Sprague, FARMIST Founder
It’s 2013 and we have a million ways to connect with a million people. But the question is: How will you connect with the right people to the benefit of your small farm? As farmers, our social media priorities are to 1. connect with your existing customers (and help them market you to their networks), 2. connect with potential customers in your area, and 3. educate the wider universe of consumers.
Connect with your customers (and their friends)
Sure, your customers are interested in what’s coming in their produce boxes next week, but truly engaging your customers can mean so much more. Telling them what’s in the produce box just stops with them. But if you can engage them meaningfully about recipes, the farm bill, why they shouldn’t buy a cucumber in January, or a funny thing that happened on your farm this week, then you are giving them a reason to “Like” you on Facebook or “+1” on Google+, “Retweet” you on Twitter, and “Repin” you on Pinterest. When your customers interact with you on these networks, they are growing your potential customer base through their connections and becoming even more loyal to you.
Recruit local, potential customers
There are a lot of folks out there who are not your customers yet. They don’t know you, but you have thoughts, ideas, information and offerings that would engage them as customers. Twitter can be an especially useful tool to find local groups of people who could be your next group of customers, especially if you are servicing a metropolitan area. Although Twitter takes some practice and regular usage to really work, you can search for different affinity groups in your area. People are connecting around subjects related to food, parenting, the environment, innovation, local preservation, conservation and more. These groups are a treasure trove of potential customers.
For example, in Chicago, there are several groups made up of young, innovative entrepreneurs and small businesses. These young people may trend toward sustainability and healthy eating and could be receptive to such topics. There is no clear formula for finding your next customers, but a little searching can result in some unexpected rewards.
Be mindful that social media users don’t like to be clearly marketed to or preached to. The key is to participate in conversations about cooking, raising kids or local issues as the voice of the small farmer, increasing your recognition as a meaningful contributor to a discussion. You are engaging folks and educating them about you, your mission and your products indirectly.
Eaters all over
With inexpensive Peruvian asparagus and Chilean berries available through the winter, we’ve lost the seasonal rhythm that honors delicious, locally grown produce. Unfortunately, many potential customers have no idea what to do with unfamiliar seasonal veggies like parsnips, turnips and squash. And parents just want to find something their kids won’t complain about. Even many nutritionists, joining in on the backlash against processed foods, seem to have no idea what season it is. Pinterest is an excellent tool for educating the general population of consumers on the wonders of all of our seasonal goods.
Pinterest does recipes extremely well. While you may have a recipe section on your website, Pinterest is where more and more folks, especially budding cooks, are going to find their recipes. It’s becoming increasingly more common to search for an ingredient on Pinterest and look at all the lovely, scrumptious pictures in the results. And, because the photos on Pinterest simply link to other locations on the web, you don’t have to be producing the content that you are offering to people. All you have to do is search for the best recipes for the products you are producing and create visually appealing boards of recipes for people to find on their own.
This is your chance, farmers, to make mouths water for parsnips, turnips and heirloom squash. This is your chance to show consumers what a real carrot looks like and how cool it is even if it’s not what a carrot looks like in the supermarket. This is your chance to highlight the seasons, the recipes, the beauty of the farm and how you labor to feed all of us well. Your current customers will enjoy knowing about and using your Pinterest board, but also consumers all over will stumble upon your content and their consciousness will increase. The whole market for the healthy products you are producing will expand.
Social media is evolving and few can claim to be experts. These tips will help get you started experimenting. In the end, the goal is to engage folks with what you are producing, why you are producing it and how it is important to them. It is about having a conversation with customers.
Amy Sprague is a sometimes-fence-fixer and cattle herder on her family’s Oklahoma ranch. She is the founder and manager of FARMIST, an upcoming online platform for farmers to share and organize agricultural research and information. While we’re finishing the platform at www.farmist.org, you can join in on the food and farming system conversation at www.facebook.com/farmist.org.